It’s a Rogers and Hammerstein banger following the forthright and feisty Anna as she becomes the King of Siam’s resident schoolmistress for his 67 (!) children. She struggles to fight his dominance and greed for power – neither of which make him unlikable – whilst trying to assist with his kingdom’s ruling.
The show’s success rests heavily on our two leads, and luckily in this production both are just incredible. Annalene Beechey as Anna is beautiful. She commands the stage. She sings with effortless power and attraction, with a worldly grin and sparkling innocence. She’s likeable in every sense. Jose Llana’s interpretation of the King of Siam complements her perfectly. He’s uncertain, angry, vulnerable and fiery. He’s a mess of contradictions and good humour and the audience loves him for it. We want him to succeed and be a great King, rooting for his son Prince Chulalongkorn also.
It’s a fairly wishy-washy plot and not a huge amount happens, aside from an illicit love affair between slave Tuptin (played with wide-eyed innocence by Paulina Yeung) and Lun Tha. There’s a play-within-a-play in the second half that doesn’t really need to be there. And if it does, it really doesn’t need to be as dragged out as it is. The ensemble are great and the dancing (kudos to choreographer Christopher Gattelli and of course Jerome Robbins) is sublime. It’s a real masterpiece of a show, regardless of whether you’re in love with the story or the style.
Despite being many years old, the show stands the test of time and Anna’s determination is a breath of fresh air. She’s grounded and principled, not bolshy. The procession of royal children are adorable too, each bringing bundles of enthusiasm to their small but mighty role.
The production is a spectacle. Understated set, powerful choreography and breathtaking vocals. But it’s the stars of our show that really makes The King and I special.
Catch the show at Leeds Grand Theatre until 9th November 2019.
Photograph provided by Leeds Grand Theatre